A wonderful story of friendship of a Georgian artist and a legendary designer Coco Chanel
08 March, 2019
A wonderful story of friendship of a Georgian artist and a legendary designer Coco Chanel
Two years ago, a book dedicated to the anniversary of Chanel Brand was published in France; one of the large chapters of the book describes the life and work of a Georgian artist Ilia Zdanevich.

Currently, a project aiming at the preparation of an exhibition and a catalog - Iliazd
and Picasso is underway; the project is being organized and financed by the House of Chanel. Ilia Zdanevich’s first wife was a model of the legendary designer and Coco Chanel was a godmother of one of his children… How can we describe the friendship of Iliazd with Chanel and Picasso; readers will learn about the most interesting details of this friendship from the interview given by Nana Shervashidze – an art critic to AMBEBI.GE:

While visiting Paris in October 1921, Ilia Zdanevich lived in an apartment which belonged to Mikhail Larionov, address: # 43, rue de Seine, Paris. Larionov organized Iliazd’s meeting with Russian artists, authors, and painters living in Paris. It was there that he met Picasso, Robert and Sonia Delaunay – the Dadaists. However, Paris was a disappointment for Ilia. Parisian artistic life differed greatly from the images of Paris he had in his mind; but Ilia, who was innately active, organized a conference and gave a public lecture - "NEW SCHOOLS IN RUSSIAN POETRY" in the French language, two weeks after his arrival in Paris, in the house belonging to a famous singer - Maria Olenina-d'Alheim.

After a while, Ilia found himself completely broke, but soon he accepted an offer from Sonia Terk-Delaunay - Robert Delaunay’s wife, who was from Ukraine. His task was to design textile patterns. The design of Vera Sudeikina's well-known dress, based on a Zaum verse in Russian and French languages, belongs to Iliazd. In 1925, Iliazd became a chairman of the Association of Russian Artists in Paris. He was one of the organizers and an artistic designer of Russian charity event – fancy-dress parties in Paris.

The grave of Ilia Zdanevich in Leuville
In 1927 Iliazd was registered as a textile designer in the official registry of the Paris Chamber of Commerce. Sonia Delaunay recommended him for a job at a textile factory belonging to Mimi Blak Belair – a nephew of one of Picasso’s muses - Mizzi Certo; in 1928 the textile factory was purchased by ‘Tissus Chanel’ – a world-famous Chanel textile company. Iliazd became the head of the main graphics bureau of Coco Chanel’s enterprise. The artist, using geometric ornaments characteristic of abstract art, managed to bring Chanel Jersey fabric patterns to perfection.
Soon, Ilia Zdanevich and Coco Chanel became close friends. Coco Chanel became a godmother of Michel - a daughter born to Ilia Zdanevich and his wife Axelle Brocard (the first photo shows Ilia and Axelle). In 1928 Iliazd received a patent for weaving machinery, later purchased by Chanel Company. All the factories owned by Chanel had the weaving machines designed by Iliazd. While working with Coco Chanel, Iliazd met a graphic artist Paul Iribe, a composer Igor Stravinsky; in 1932, the latter composed a piece of music dedicated to Iliazd. Ilia had friendly relations with the great-grandson of Victor Hugo - Francois Hugo, who worked with Chanel as a button designer.

In 1932, Ilia was put in charge of organizing production and designing sketches for new models in a Chanel factory located in the city of Metz in the north of France. Iliazd participated in the establishment of a Chanel fabric factory in Britain, for which he traveled to London and Birmingham. The enterprise soon faced problems due to the economic crisis. Iliazd had a disagreement with the management of the enterprise with regard to the plan envisaging a reduction of the salaries of workers, he was against the implementation of the plan. In order to solve the problem, he even offered the management of the enterprise to cut their own salaries up to 60%. On March 2, Ilia sent a letter of protest to Coco Chanel. The conflict went on and became difficult to solve, but in the end, it was solved.

Iliazd in Paris
In 1933, Iliazd sent his children to Cartagena, Spain, to the house belonging to one of Coco Chanel’s servants. In December, Iliazd had a disagreement with one of the administrators of the factory, who accused him of stealing some material from Metz Factory. After a two-month investigation, the court pled him not guilty. Iliazd left the work and received quite a large amount of compensation for moral damage, and the right to live in a house near the Asnières-sur-Seine Factory until April 1934. He still had strong friendly feelings and respect for Coco Chanel. “I need great courage to realize separation with you after so many years of close cooperation. During this cooperation, I appreciated your genius and I would like to express my gratitude to you for your desire to respect and value my work. Believe me, good memories about our relationship and cooperation will stay with us for a long time.” – Iliazd wrote to Coco Chanel.

In 1940, Zdanevich began publishing books of Livre d’artiste (artistic book) and during his life, he published about 20 books of this type. These books were published in small quantities and printed on old or rare paper. The first addition of Livre d’artiste was the collection of classical sonnets in Russian language Афат/Afat, which Iliazd dedicated to his friend – Joanne Spencer. The collection of 76 sonnets is illustrated with Picasso’s six engravings. This collection was the beginning of a long-term creative union between Iliazd and Picasso. Out of the 64 copies of the collection, six are dedicated copies and one of them was dedicated to Coco Chanel.

Picasso and Iliazd
This copy of “Afat” included the 77th sonnet dedicated to Coco Chanel. Coco Chanel cherished this collection and kept it in the library of her house in Paris - 31, Cambrai Street.

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